COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Cooper McCullough can point to a single day when asked where his focus began to intensify.
It was the final regular-season dual against Eastern Oregon.
“It was just at some point I realized that if I wanted to accomplish my goals I was going to have to work my a— off,” McCullough said. “And so that’s what I did from then until we left for nationals. I set my mind on achieving that goal on the 25th of January after the Eastern Oregon dual.”
McCullough accomplished his goals, and then some.
McCullough, a redshirt sophomore at North Idaho, won the 157-pound West District Championship to qualify for the NJCAA National Tournament in Council Bluffs, Iowa. There, he defeated Dallas Boone of Neosho to take fifth place and earn All-American status.
“Earning All-American status to me was basically just an accumulation of had work over the years and finally having it pay off was just super reassuring that hard work pays off,” McCullough said. “And if and when I set my mind to something I can accomplish it.
“It also made me feel like I was living up to a certain standard created in Moses Lake.”
McCullough was a state finalist and placed all four years of high school. Fellow Moses Lake graduate, and McCullough’s current North Idaho teammate, Nick Hara took third place at 133 pounds at the West District Championship to also qualify for the NJCAA National Tournament.
“Sharing this experience with Hara was honestly incredible,” McCullough said. “We worked together before and after practice, got in the room to work on technique and leaned on each other when we needed it because we both knew what it would take to get where we wanted.
“Even though he didn’t All-American, he was more deserving of it than most people that did. Hara is so talented and had set a tunnel vision from the beginning of the year. Sometimes things just don’t work out — wrestling is crazy — but having him by my side was what I needed to help me do what I set out to do years ago, and that’s how it was in high school, too.”